The Kalu Yala Blog

Health Care: Up Close and Personal

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June 30, 2012

by Tucker Johnson
Posted In: Display on Anthropology, Voices of Kalu Yala

So, it has been a while since my last blog. Now, before you jump down my throat, I feel I have a pretty decent excuse. I was a bit under the weather actually. Well, a bit more than a bit. Quite a lot under the weather to be exact. Which has both it’s upsides and downsides. The downsides include a a couple of cash-wrenching Emergency Room bills and a week and a half of bed-ridden, fever-riddled nightmares. The upside is that I am an anthropology intern looking into healthcare in Panama, and I was able to get an up-close and personal (too close maybe) look into one aspect of the healthcare system.

My symptoms started mundanely, only a bit of a headache, maybe some general malaise. Nothing to write home about, maybe take some Advil, have a gatorade and wake up feeling fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had no such luck. I tried getting up the next morning and blots of blackness exploded behind my eyes, shooting pain through my head. I had trouble seeing and pain had spread to my neck and back. My fever steadily climbed into the 103′s. That’s about when the hallucinations and night terrors started. I saw things from my past that I didn’t know I remembered, at night I saw friends and family, and sometimes I was in an ocean being strangled by waves. The ceiling tiles above my bed became my amorphous enemies, watching as I tossed and turned, but doing nothing to help, which at the time I hated them for, but in retrospect, they are ceiling tiles, and their help might havee been slightly unproductive.

Luckily, the Kalu Yala folks I was with in San Miguel are truly incredible people and took great care of me despite my nastiness. On the third morning I had transcended the light illness and gone into the deep sickness realm. By that evening I was in the ER at Punta Pacífica Hospital in Panama City. Evan Conaway, who is my program director, was kind enough to tag along. I do not have enough gratitude for all of the invaluable help he provided, or for the incredible stroke of luck that he has taken courses in Medical Spanish. If you are going to go to a hospital in Panama, go with Evan. For not only will he provide excellent translation for obscure medical phrases, but he will also be kind enough to point out that your hospital gown is missing the back ties after going for a walk to the bathroom through the entire ward. He also won’t laugh too hard at you when the IVs kick in and perhaps you start talking too much.

The hospital was super clean, efficient, and professional. I was checked in, given a rooom, and had basic fluids pumping into my body within forty minutes. The nurses were personable and extremely pleasant, and kind enough. I had blood work which showed I didn’t have Dengue, thank god, even if it would have been a good story to share at bars. My fever dropped, and the doctor said the blood work was inconclusive. After fours hours I was sent on my way with no diagnoses and a prescription for pain killers. I was less than happy, but my fever was down and my had stopped seeing stars, so I would take I can get. Three days later, I was worse, and I was back in the ER. They even recognized me! I got the same basic treatment, but this time I also got a specialist in infections. I have no idea how to describe this doctor, luckily he spoke some English. Here are some memorable quotes:

He was great. He had Evan look at my throat twice to see what he thought, which is comforting, because Evan is a world-renowned expert on upper respiratory infections. He deduced that I have both a viral and a bacterial infection. Two for one! Where the infections are located, or what they are, is up in the air. X-rays showed calcification and scarring across my lungs, as well as bronchial trauma, which is indicative of having TB, or something like that, at some point in my life, perhaps recently. Spending time in Africa and working as an EMT means that it is a bit harder to narrow down diseases by what I might have been exposed to. I guess I should stop kissing all those Panamanian girls (I am joking mother, no worries).

So, now a waiting game with broad spectrum antibiotics. Finally getting back to work though. I am back to eating and the night terrors stopped, I almost miss seeing all those fake people. I firmly believe I am on the mend and it is thanks to the Panamanian healthcare system. It took three trips to the hospital, but the end result is what I care about. If I can go back to work and no longer stare at the those mocking ceiling tiles for hours on end, I am happy. I won’t be running any marathons any time soon, but to be honest, I probably wasn’t (even before I got sick).

And now for your viewing pleasure, TuckER.


3 Responses to “Health Care: Up Close and Personal”

  1. Moira Muir says:


  2. Marie Keane says:

    Tucker, Incredible story! Glad you are well enough to tell it, probably gave your mother a shock, although I think she’s rather use to shock. Stay well.

  3. Kate says:

    “My name is Dr. Flores, like flowers, you know, the plant with petals. That is my name. You can call me Dr. Flowers. Now, let me see your throat.” Laughing out loud in an internet cafe.